2020-2021 RTC16: Week 8

Posted by Matthew Eisenberg on January 18th, 2021

The state of Texas had the attention of the college basketball world much of the past week. First it was the showdown between Texas and Texas Tech, with Tech’s Mac McClung taking over in the final minutes. Over the weekend, Texas Tech and Baylor played a tight game before the Bears proved to be too much. Attention remains on the Big 12 heading into this week with Baylor hosting a Kansas team who is coming off of a loss against Oklahoma State. Elsewhere, Minnesota rebounded from a 25-point defeat at the hands of Michigan 10 days prior with an 18-point win of its own. While Gonzaga and Baylor continue to roll around, anything has remained possible outside of the top two.

Conference Breakdown: Big 10 (4), Big 12 (4), ACC (2), SEC (2), AAC (1), Big East (1) Pac-12 (1), WCC (1)

Risers

  • Alabama: Riding a seven-game winning streak, the Crimson Tide jump from the “also receiving votes” category and into this week’s RTC16. Alabama knocked down 29-of-66 (43.9%) three-point attempts last week in what were convincing wins over Kentucky and Arkansas. Now sitting atop the SEC at 5-0, Alabama hits the road for the fourth time in sixth games on Tuesday against second-place LSU.
  • Florida State: The Seminoles returned to the court after a two-plus week hiatus and went 2-0 with wins against NC State and North Carolina. The win over the Tar Heels came without Scottie Barnes, but that proved not to be an issue with five Seminoles finishing the game with 10 or more points.
  • Virginia: December losses to San Francisco and Gonzaga seem to be a thing of the past now as Virginia has rattled off five consecutive wins. Their most recent victory came in dominating form at Clemson. Tony Bennett’s team shot 65.5% from inside the arc and 55.6% beyond it on 27 attempts against what was a top five defensive efficiency team in Clemson. After scoring 70 or more points in just two ACC games last season, Virginia has now done so three times in its past four games.

Fallers

  • Arkansas: The Razorbacks ended the 2020 calendar year a perfect 9-0, but since 2021 began the team is just 1-4. This past week Arkansas dropped a pair on the road by 16 and 31 points. Arkansas ranks 12th in league play in both offensive and defensive effective field-goal percentage.
  • Indiana: Archie Miller’s Indiana team fell to 8-6 (3-4) after dropping a home game to Purdue last Thursday. Since taking over in Indiana, Miller is now 0-6 against Purdue. While Trayce Jackson-Davis’ production has remained high, it’s a team that needs more out of junior Rob Phinisee. In IU victories, Phinisee is 11-of-27 (40.7%) from deep, but in losses he is just 3-of-18 (16.7%).
  • San Diego State: A pair of lackluster offensive performances led the Aztecs to an 0-2 week against Utah State. After finishing last season with an offensive efficiency ranking of 11th in the nation, the Aztecs currently sit at 71st and eighth best in the Mountain West Conference. With Matt Mitchell sidelined for the next week or two with a hyperextended knee, the Aztecs could face challenges on the offensive side of the floor.

Notable Games This Week

  • Monday: Kansas @ Baylor, 9 PM EST, ESPN
  • Tuesday: Alabama @ LSU, ESPN2
  • Tuesday: Seton Hall @ Villanova, 9 PM EST, Fox Sports 1
  • Thursday: USC @ Stanford, 5 PM EST, Fox Sports 1
  • Friday: Michigan @ Purdue, 7 PM EST, Fox Sports 1
  • Saturday: Ohio State @ Wisconsin, 4 PM EST
  • Saturday: Baylor @ Oklahoma State, 2 PM EST
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Ten Questions to Consider: Marquee Games and Marquee Opportunities

Posted by Matthew Eisenberg on January 15th, 2021

While some of this weekend’s action has already been cancelled due to COVID, there remains plenty of games to keep an eye on. Battles at the top of several conferences are taking place and teams coming off of losses have a chance to make quick turnaround statements. Here are 10 questions I have for the games set to take place over the next few days:

  1. How will Wisconsin respond following its disastrous game at Michigan? (Wisconsin @ Rutgers, Friday, 9 PM EST, Fox Sports 1) After a Nate Reuvers basket at the 6:19 mark of the first half put Wisconsin down three points to Michigan, the Badgers were on the wrong end of a 43-6 run over the next 15:36 of action. Wisconsin’s Brad Davison is averaging just 5.3 points per game over his last four games, having shot 8-of-31 from the field.
  2. Can Texas Tech steady the hot shooting its opponents have had beyond the arc in league play? (Baylor @ Texas Tech, Saturday, 4 PM EST, ESPN) Heading into Wednesday’s game against Texas, the Texas Tech defense has forced opponents to shoot under 30 percent on the season from beyond the arc, a percentage that is among the top 50 nationally. However, in conference play, that number has risen to 36.2 percent, third worst in the Big 12. Baylor is shooting above 42 percent from deep on the season, currently ranking second in college basketball.
  3. Can Clemson’s top-ranked defense slow what is currently a one-dimensional Virginia offense? (Virginia @ Clemson, Saturday, 6 PM EST, ESPN) As of Wednesday, no team in the country has a better defensive efficiency than Clemson. While the Tigers are allowing under 87 points per 100 possessions on the season, that has climbed to a tick above 96 points in ACC play, ranking just sixth among ACC teams. For Virginia, while the Cavaliers’ offense is among the nation’s best inside the three-point line, they come in struggling beyond it, shooting an ACC worst 29.5 percent heading into its game against Notre Dame.
  4. Like Gonzaga has been doing to everyone else, will they simply run Saint Mary’s out of the gym? (Gonzaga @ Saint Mary’s, Saturday, 8 PM EST, ESPN) While the Gaels have been a perennial second banana to Gonzaga in the WCC over the last decade, recent matchups between these teams have not been close. Since the start of the 2016-17 season, Gonzaga has won 9 of the 11 games, with those nine victories coming by an average of 21.6 points.
  5. Is the Ziaire Williams and Oscar Da Silva pairing the best duo in the country that no one is talking about? (Stanford @ Colorado, Saturday, 2 PM EST, Pac-12 Network) While Stanford five-star freshman Ziaire Williams made headlines with his recent triple-double, not enough attention is being given to senior Oscar Da Silva. Through five Pac-12 games, Da Silva is averaging 21.4 points, 9.2 rebounds and 2.2 assists per game, while shooting above 55 percent from the field, numbers that no recent player has managed to compile throughout a league season.
  6. Like they have done twice before this season, will Kansas quickly bounce back from its loss earlier in the week? (Iowa State @ Kansas, Saturday, 8 PM EST, ESPN+) Following losses to Gonzaga and Texas, Kansas responded by beating Saint Joseph’s by 22 points and TCU by 29. In the Tuesday night loss against Oklahoma State, Kansas players other than Ochai Agbaji were 1-of-12 from beyond the arc. Over his last two games, freshman Jalen Wilson has scored just 13 total points while committing 10 turnovers.
  7. Can Minnesota end its skid and takedown the red-hot Wolverines?(Michigan @ Minnesota, Saturday, 2 PM EST, ESPN2) In the first matchup between these teams just 10 days prior, Michigan won 82-57. While three of the four 10-minute segments were played tight, the Wolverines went on a 29-8 run to start the second-half which blew the game open. In that span, Michigan made 12-of-15 from the field, while Minnesota made just 3-of-15 shots. Marcus Carr was the only Golden Gopher to score more than 10 points in the game.
  8. In Bedlam, which star shines brightest? (Oklahoma @ Oklahoma State, Saturday, 8 PM EST) Oklahoma’s Austin Reaves and Oklahoma State’s Cade Cunningham are the only two players in the Big 12 to currently be averaging at least 15+ points, 5+ rebounds, and 3+ assists per game. Reaves is again off to a poor start from beyond the arc shooting just 27.7 percent, something that plagued him last year as well. In Reaves’ two years at Wichita State prior to joining Oklahoma, he had made 45 percent of his 182 three-point attempts.
  9. Can Buffalo and Bowling Green manage to defend without fouling? (Bowling Green @ Buffalo, Friday, 7 PM EST, CBS Sports Network) The Bulls and Falcons each currently sit a game behind Toledo in the MAC. Bowling Green and Buffalo have the MAC’s #1 and #2 ranked defensive efficiencies in league play, despite sitting in the bottom two spots in opponent free throw rate. In Bowling Green’s win over Buffalo earlier in the season, its 20 point per game scorer Justin Turner was a perfect 15-of-15 at the line, with Bowling Green finishing the game making 31-of-40 as a team.
  10. Will North Carolina’s relentless attacking of the offensive glass be too much for Florida State to stop? (North Carolina @ Florida State, Saturday, Noon EST) North Carolina has finished each of the past six seasons with an offensive rebounding rate that was among the top 20 in the nation. North Carolina’s current offensive rebounding rate ranks second in the nation and would be the program’s highest percentage under Roy Williams. In Tuesday’s win over Syracuse, UNC grabbed 24 offensive rebounds, a rate that was above 50 percent for the game. Heading into Wednesday’s action, Florida State ranks 236th in the nation in clearing its defensive glass.

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2020-21 RTC16: Week 7

Posted by Matthew Eisenberg on January 11th, 2021

After trailing most of the second-half, Texas rallied from five down in the final two-minutes to escape West Virginia with a win. Shaka Smart’s team has now picked up road wins at both Kansas and West Virginia over the past 10 days. While Michigan, Iowa and Wisconsin escaped any damage in the Big Ten this past week, the middle of the conference continued to beat on each other with Illinois, Indiana, Maryland, Michigan State, Minnesota, Northwestern and Rutgers all losing at least one game over the last seven days. The RTC16 has plenty of consensus on the top 12 teams, while the bottom four spots this week are filled with varying opinions.

Conference Breakdown: Big 12 (5), Big Ten (4), ACC (2), Big East (2), AAC (1), SEC (1), WCC (1)

Risers

  • Gonzaga: While Gonzaga cannot rise any higher than its position at the top of the RTC16, they continued to show just how dangerous they can be. In Saturday’s win over Portland, Joel Ayayi’s triple-double was the first in Gonzaga program history. After averaging 10.6 points and 6.3 rebounds per game a season ago, Ayayi is averaging 11.8 points and a team-best 8.1 boards per game. Flying under the radar behind Corey Kispert, Jalen Suggs and Drew Timme, Ayayi is another piece to the puzzle that makes this team special.
  • Clemson: Clemson makes its first appearance in the RTC16 after an overtime win this past week against NC State. Clemson now has five wins over KenPom top-50 ranked opponents, with its lone loss coming on the road against Virginia Tech. After shooting 46.3 percent from the field in his first three years at Clemson, senior Aamir Simms is shooting 56.1 percent while averaging 12.6 points per game.
  • UCLA: After escaping with an overtime win in Tempe, the Bruins led much of the second half in a win against Arizona in Tucson. UCLA is now 5-0 in Pac-12 play, having won 12 of its last 13 league games going back to last season. While the defense still has room to grow, the Bruins have the league’s best offensive efficiency, effective field-goal percentage, and three-point percentage. The Bruins sit just outside the top 16, but picked up multiple votes this week.

Fallers

  • Rutgers: The Scarlet Knights had an 0-2 week with a pair of double-figure losses. It was a tough shooting week for Ron Harper and Geo Baker who went a combined 3-of-17 from beyond the arc. The team’s struggles at the free-throw line also continued, as the Knights were a mere 11-of-27 at the line. The struggles allowed Ohio State and Michigan State to outscore Rutgers by 25 points with the clock stopped.
  • Minnesota: Minnesota finished the week 0-2 after dropping both of its games away from home. The Golden Gophers’ offense did not crack the 1.0 PPP mark in either game, while the defense allowed 1.21 and 1.19 points per possession. Through seven Big Ten games, the Minnesota offense now ranks 13th in three-point percentage and last in two-point field-goal percentage.
  • Missouri: Cuonzo Martin’s Missouri club led Mississippi State 43-29 with 18:28 to go in a game last Tuesday night. The Tigers saw State finish the game on a 49-20 run. After committing just one turnover in the first half, Missouri turned it over seven times after the break.

Notable Upcoming Games

  • Tuesday: Wisconsin @ Michigan, 7 PM EST, ESPN
  • Wednesday: Texas Tech @ Texas, 9 PM EST, ESPN2
  • Thursday: San Diego State @ Utah State, 9 PM EST, CBS Sports Network
  • Thursday: Washington State @ UCLA, 5 PM EST, Fox Sports 1
  • Friday: Villanova @ Connecticut, 9 PM EST, Fox Sports 1
  • Saturday: Baylor @ Texas Tech, 4 PM EST, ESPN
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Ten Questions to Consider: Rematches and Road Tests

Posted by Matthew Eisenberg on January 8th, 2021

As the season progresses, teams are beginning to face many different challenges. From injuries to key players, to rematches against conference foes and battles against ongoing trends, teams must adapt and grow to have continued success as the calendar continues to move on. Here are 10 questions I have for the action set to unfold over the next few days:

  1. Can Texas erase last season’s nightmarish trip to Morgantown with a dominant performance of its own? (Texas @ West Virginia, Saturday, 1 PM EST, ESPN) Last season, the Longhorns’ road trip to West Virginia ended with a lopsided 97-59 loss. Texas had a -10 turnover margin and surrendered 23 offensive rebounds. West Virginia is coming off of a win against Oklahoma State, a game in which the Mountaineers trailed by 19 points with 11:15 to go.
  2. After a tale of two halves in the first match-up, can either the Buckeyes or Scarlet Knights assert control for 40 minutes? (Ohio State @ Rutgers, Saturday, Noon EST, Big Ten Network) In the first match-up between these teams on December 23, Rutgers won the first half by 10 points while Ohio State won the second half by 22. One key for Ohio State was its ability to get to the free throw line in the second half, making 17-of-21 after going just 5-of-8 at the line in the first half.
  3. Can Clemson keep up its terrific start by doing something that it has done just once before? (Clemson @ North Carolina, Saturday, 7 PM EST, ESPN) Clemson is currently 9-1, has five wins against the KenPom top 50, and as of Thursday morning, boasts the nation’s best adjusted defensive efficiency rating. Clemson’s defense creates a high-rate of turnovers, an area that can trouble the Tar Heels. The Tigers ended a 40-game losing streak at North Carolina with its win in Chapel Hill last season.
  4. How will the loss of Chris Smith impact the Bruins’ trip to the desert? (UCLA @ Arizona, Saturday, 9 PM EST, ESPN) UCLA learned of Chris Smith’s torn ACL shortly before its game last week against Colorado. This week they begin the desert trip with Arizona State before taking on Arizona on the weekend. The Bruins have won three straight in Tucson for the first time since the early 1980’s. Earning either a split or a sweep in Arizona will tell a lot about UCLA moving forward.
  5. As well as Alabama has been playing, might they have room to get even better? (Alabama @ Auburn, Saturday, Noon EST, ESPN2) The Crimson Tide are 3-0 in SEC play with wins already over Tennessee and Florida. Alabama is shooting 32.3 percent on its three-point attempts for the season, but have been making 39 percent of their attempts in league play. Among those to find their shot has been John Petty, who after starting the year 11-of-39 from deep, has made 10 of his last 20 three-point attempts.
  6. Can the undefeated Drake Bulldogs continue to roll against its stiffest competition? (Loyola Chicago @ Drake, Sunday, 6:30 PM EST, ESPN2) The Drake Bulldogs are a dominant 13-0 with an average margin of victory of 24 points to start the season. Loyola-Chicago’s top-50 KenPom ranking will be the highest of any Drake opponent by roughly 100 spots. For Drake, a trio of former Florida Southwestern players led by Shanquan Hemphill’s 14.2 points per game has been a big reason for the early success of the Bulldogs.
  7. Will this Big Ten battle come down to the stars again? (Minnesota @ Iowa, Sunday, 2:30 PM EST, Big Ten Network) In the Christmas day matchup between Iowa and Minnesota, Minnesota dug itself out of a seven-point deficit in the final minute behind Marcus Carr’s shotmaking which forced overtime and eventually gave the Golden Gophers the win. Carr finished with 30 points and six made threes, while Iowa’s Luka Garza had a game-high 32 points. Garza grabbed 11 offensive rebounds in the game, with Iowa as a team tallying 27.
  8. Can Fatts Russell work his magic on the road or will VCU remain undefeated in the A-10? (Rhode Island @ VCU, Saturday, 2 PM EST, CBS Sports Network) The last time these teams played last season, URI’s Fatts Russell scored 30 points, with 16 coming at the free-throw line. The Rams come in struggling having lost four of six, with one of those wins coming after trailing Saint Joseph’s by four with just 20 seconds to go. VCU comes in having won seven straight games and with its defense creating plenty of frustration with an average of 19.2 forced turnovers over its last five games.
  9. Can UConn take advantage of what has been an ineffective Butler defense? (Connecticut @ Butler, Saturday, 4 PM EST, CBS Sports Network) After having a top-30 ranked effective field-goal defense last season, Butler’s eFG% defense currently ranks among the bottom 50 nationally. If Butler is able to force misses, keeping a Huskies team that ranks among the top five nationally in offensive rebound rate could lead to constant pressure on the Butler defense.
  10. How will UC San Diego fare in its first game in league play at the D-1 level? (UC Irvine @ UC San Diego, Friday, 7 PM EST, ESPN3) The Tritons have played just two games on the year, both coming before Christmas against Saint Katherine of the NAIA. UCSD gets UC Irvine on both Friday and Saturday for its “welcome to the Big West.” UCSD went 30-1 last season and finished the year ranked third in the final D2SIDA rankings
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2020-21 RTC16: Week 6

Posted by Matthew Eisenberg on January 4th, 2021

Gonzaaga’s Joel Ayayi had two double-doubles through his first two seasons in Spokane. After an 18-point, 10-rebound performance against San Francisco over the weekend, however, Ayayi now has four double-doubles in 10 games this season. While the likes of Corey Kispert, Jalen Suggs and Drew Timme rightfully dominate the headlines, Gonzaga’s spot at #1 in the RTC16 remains firmly gripped thanks in part to its premier depth. #2 Baylor picked up its second KenPom top-100 win on Saturday at Iowa State, and the Bears next six opponents are ranked inside of the top 65. Villanova is currently dealing with COVID issues which include head coach Jay Wright, but chaos within the RTC16 moves the Wildcats up to #3. Here’s a look at the first RTC16 of 2021.

Conference Breakdown: Big Ten (5), Big 12 (4), Big East (2), SEC (2), AAC (1), Pac-12 (1), WCC (1)

Risers

  • Texas: After missing five of its final six three-point attempts in the first-half at Kansas, the Longhorns began the second-half by drilling their first six attempts after the break. While Greg Brown was held to just five points, five of his Longhorn teammates scored in double-figures. Shaka Smart’s second win over Kansas while at Texas sent a statement to the rest of the Big 12 — after sitting at #10 in the RTC16 last week, Texas now appears ranked at #4 in all seven ballots cast this week.
  • Iowa: Since collapsing late against Minnesota, Iowa has compiled a pair of quality wins against Northwestern and at Rutgers. Jordan Bohannon scored in double-figures in each game, including tying his season-high of 24 points against Northwestern. While both the Wildcats and Scarlet Knights each averaged 1.06 points per possession against Iowa, it was an improvement from the 1.32 PPP allowed by the Hawkeyes against Minnesota.
  • Michigan: The Wolverines added a pair of victories against KenPom top-60 teams last week, and they are now 5-0 against top-100 teams, with four of those victories coming by more than 10 points. Freshman Hunter Dickinson is now averaging 16.6 points per game with a 72.6 percent field-goal percentage. After appearing among the top-10 in just a single RTC16 ballot last week, the Wolverines now appear at #5 in over half of the ballots this week.

Fallers

  • Houston: Houston’s fall this week comes after a narrow loss at Tulsa. While the Cougars rebounded with a win over SMU on Sunday, the team learned that Caleb Mills would be stepping away from the team. While Mills has been limited early in the year, he averaged more than 13 points per game last season and made north of 35 percent of his threes.
  • Kansas: The Jayhawks’ 25-point home loss to Texas tied the school’s largest margin of defeat at home (Feb. 1, 1989, vs. Missouri) going back to the 1949-50 season. David McCormack’s struggles continue as he is now shooting just 32.9 percent from the field, a steep drop from the 52.1 percent notch he shot last season.
  • West Virginia: Not only has West Virginia lost two of its last three games, including this past weekend’s matchup with Oklahoma, but the team was dealt the blow of Oscar Tshiebwe leaving the program. Jalen Bridges saw his minutes rise against Oklahoma and while the Mountaineers lost the game, Bridges scored 19 points, made 5-of-6 three-point attempts and showed that he can bring a spark to the WVU offense moving forward.

Notable Upcoming Games

  • Monday: West Virginia @ Oklahoma State, 9 PM EST
  • Tuesday: Rutgers @ Michigan State, 9 PM EST, ESPN2
  • Wednesday: Minnesota @ Michigan, 8:30 PM EST
  • Thursday: USC @ Arizona, 9 PM EST
  • Saturday: Texas @ West Virginia, TBA
  • Sunday: Minnesota @ Iowa, TBA
  • Sunday: Loyola-Chicago @ Drake, 6 PM EST

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2020-21 RTC16: Week 5

Posted by Matthew Eisenberg on December 28th, 2020

The gap separating #1 Gonzaga and #2 Baylor from the rest of the country continued to widen this past week as the Bulldogs and Bears went a combined 4-0 with an average margin of victory of 33.8 points. Gonzaga’s offense continuously broke down Virginia’s defense in ways that few teams have in the Tony Bennett era. #3 Kansas backed up its win against Texas Tech with a convincing performance over West Virginia, while #4 Villanova enters this week with COVID-19 concerns, they moved to 3-0 in the Big East with a 17-point victory at Marquette last week.

Conference Breakdown: Big Ten (5), Big 12 (5), Big East (2), SEC (2), AAC (1), WCC (1)

Risers

  • Houston: The Cougars began AAC play with a 26-point win against Temple and overcame a slow start to beat UCF on the road, 63-54. Houston is a perfect 7-0 and is just one of seven teams with an adjusted offensive and defensive efficiency ranking of 20th or better. After being ranked in the top five in just one of eight RTC ballots a week ago, Houston this week earned six top-5 votes.
  • Texas Tech: After last week’s narrow loss at the hands of Kansas, Chris Beard’s squad squared up its Big 12 record with a two-point win against Oklahoma. Terrence Shannon’s team-high 21 points was the second time this season he has scored 20 or more, tying the number of times he did it last season. Last week Texas Tech appeared on just four RTC ballots, this week they made all but one.
  • Creighton: After starting league play with a loss to Marquette, Creighton has rattled off three straight wins, including a five–point win this past week against Xavier. The Bluejays’ balanced attack has seen four or more players score in double-figures in each of the team’s past three games. Creighton rises from out of the RTC rankings and into the top 12.

Fallers

  • Iowa: Despite leading 80-73 with just 44 seconds to go, Iowa could not escape Minnesota with a win. Iowa’s defense saw Minnesota make 17 three-point attempts, none bigger than Marcus Carr’s game-tying three in the final seconds of regulation. After going 2-8 on the road in Big Ten play last season, giving away a game the Hawkeyes seemingly had wrapped up has dropped Iowa to an average RTC ranking that is outside of the top 10.
  • Michigan State: Friday’s loss to Wisconsin dropped Michigan State to 0-2 in Big Ten play for the first time since the 2006-07 season. The 85 points allowed by the Spartans was the fifth-most the school has allowed in regulation in a league game since the 2002 season began. The Spartans fall out of this week’s RTC poll after coming in at #12 last week.

Notable Upcoming Games

  • Monday: Michigan State @ Minnesota, 8 PM EST, Big Ten Network
  • Tuesday: Houston @ Tulsa, 9 PM EST, ESPN 2
  • Wednesday: Tennessee @ Missouri, 9 PM EST, SEC Network
  • Thursday: Colorado @ USC, 9 PM EST, ESPN 2
  • Saturday: Iowa @ Rutgers, 2 PM EST, ESPN 2
  • Saturday: Texas @ Kansas, Noon EST, ESPN 2
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Ten Questions to Consider: Is This the Weekend When the Marquee Matchup Is Played?

Posted by Matthew Eisenberg on December 18th, 2020

First it was Gonzaga vs. Baylor, then it was Baylor vs. Texas, and while Villanova vs. Virginia was been wiped away from the schedule, we still have (for now) #1 Gonzaga set to take on #3 Iowa this weekend. Scoreboard operator be ready, a match-up of my preseason National Championship Game teams. Along with the headliner, this weekend also brings the CBS Sports Classic, an in-state battle from Indiana, and other matchups with plenty on the line. Here are 10 questions I have for the action on the court over the next few days.

  1. Will Iowa’s defense be at a level where it can get enough key stops to get by Gonzaga? (Gonzaga vs. Iowa, Saturday, Noon EST, CBS) KenPom data shows that in Iowa’s first six games, four of its opponents have had an offensive efficiency ranking of 275 or worse. Four opponents have had an effective field-goal percentage ranking of 200 or worse and only Western Illinois has had a turnover rate ranking better than the national average. Entering Thursday, Gonzaga is second in offensive efficiency, tenth in eFG%, and among the top 75 in turnover rate. While Luka Garza will get his, Iowa will need to do more than just score to beat Gonzaga.
  2. Will David Johnson continue his trend of extending his range beyond the three-point line? (Louisville vs. Wisconsin, Saturday, Noon EST, ESPN 2) Radford transfer Carlik Jones has had no problems fitting in with Louisville having scored 15 or more in each Cardinal game to date. Alongside Jones is David Johnson. Johnson is coming off of back-to-back games with at least 17 points. After attempting more than two three-point attempts in just a pair of games last season, Johnson has already done so three times through four games.
  3. Can the Buckeyes get by the Bruins if they remain shorthanded? (UCLA vs. Ohio State, Saturday, 4:15 PM EST, CBS) Ohio State’s EJ Liddell (15.5 PPG) has missed back-to-back games with an undisclosed non-COVID-19 related illness. In addition to Liddell, Harvard transfer Seth Towns has yet to hit the floor as he recovers from an injury. The Buckeyes feasted on poor defenses early in the year before struggling against Purdue on Wednesday. It’s a UCLA team that in many metric areas resembles Purdue defensively.
  4. Is the potential matchup between Ayo Dosunmu and Ron Harper the best matchup on Sunday across all sports? (Illinois @ Rutgers, Sunday, 1 PM EST, ESPN 2) Dosunmu, a preseason first-team All-American, has gotten off to a stellar start averaging 24 points and 7.7 rebounds per game. For Rutgers, Ron Harper Jr. has been equally fantastic putting in 23.2 points and 7 rebounds per game. Harper already has three games this season with five made three-pointers, having made 16 of his 32 three-point attempts on the season.
  5. One more time…did Kentucky turn a corner in the second-half against Notre Dame? (North Carolina vs. Kentucky, Saturday, 2 PM EST, CBS) Yes, Kentucky trailed Notre Dame by as many 24 points just ten minutes into its most recent game. Yes, the game was at Rupp and the Wildcats season looked dead on the spot. Then the ‘Cats outscored Notre Dame by 21 in the second-half and had a chance to win the game at the buzzer. This matchup features a pair of teams who are similar in many ways, both facing shooting and turnover woes, while relying on attacking the glass.
  6. Is Minnesota staring at a must-win game in mid-December? (Saint Louis @ Minnesota, Sunday, 8:30 PM EST, Fox Sports 1) The Golden Gophers sit at 6-1, but its best win comes against a 1-5 Boston College team. Saint Louis, a top-40 KenPom team begins a stretch of eight consecutive games against teams ranked in the top 40, including a back-to-back of Iowa and Michigan State after the Billikens leave Minnesota.
  7. Who can win around the rim in a battle of physical teams? (Marquette @ Xavier, Sunday, 2 PM EST, Fox Sports 1) As of Thursday, Hoop-Math has both the Marquette and Xavier defenses among the top-25 in opponent field-goal percentage at the rim. Offensively, Xavier is shooting 73.2% on attempts near the rim, which ranks among the top-25 nationally. Xavier’s four players who average north of ten points per game are a combined 49-of-65 (75.4%) on FGA’s at the rim.
  8. Can Butler’s defense show rapid in-week improvements? (Indiana vs. Butler, Saturday, 11:30 AM EST, Fox Sports 1) After opening the season on November 25, Butler played just its second game of the year on Wednesday in an 85-66 loss against Villanova. While the Bulldogs scored 1 point-per-possession, shot 50% on their two-point attempts, and made 46.7% of their three-point attempts, it was their defense that was torched by Villanova yet again surrendering 1.29 PPP.
  9. Which style of play wins the day in Tuscaloosa? (Western Kentucky @ Alabama, Saturday, 2 PM EST, ESPNU) After being one of the most up-tempo teams in the country a year ago, Nate Oats’ Alabama squad is again pushing the tempo at every opportunity. For Rick Stasnbury’s Hilltoppers team, teams have tried to attack WKU early to avoid playing offense against the defensive menace that is Charles Bassey. While Bassey is a force down low, WKU has seen opponents make 44.7% of their three-point attempts. Alabama is a team that is shooting below 30% from deep, with John Petty struggling, having made just 28% of his attempts following last season in which he made 44% of his 193 attempts.
  10. As good as San Diego State has been, might they have room to get even better? (BYU @ San Diego State, Friday, 5 PM EST, CBS Sports Network) The Aztecs already sport convincing wins against both UCLA and Arizona State. Brian Dutcher’s team has a top 20 defense and a top 50 offense. The team’s three-point percentage is down 5.6% from last season, with Matt Mitchell’s slow start from deep having some impact on the team. If Mitchell can return near to the 39% he shot last season, it’s an Aztec team loaded with weapons. In addition to Mitchell, SDSU’s pair of Terrell Gomez and Jordan Schakel have the second and third best three-point percentage of remaining college players that have attempted 300 or more three-pointers since the start of the 2018 season.

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Ten Questions to Consider: Action Continues and Here’s What to Watch

Posted by Matthew Eisenberg on December 11th, 2020

Even as games are lost to COVID positive tests and subsequent shutdowns of programs, the college basketball slate remains full of plenty of action. While off the court the likes of Jeff Capel and Mike Krzyzewski are beginning to really question why teams are playing, on the court players are continuing to battle hard and make statements. Here are ten questions I have for ten games that I hope to see played at some point from Friday through Sunday.

  1. Will a pair of elite defenses steal the show in this Big 12 showdown? (Texas @ Baylor, Sunday, 3 PM EST, ESPN) Both Baylor and Texas will head into this matchup with top ten defensive efficiencies. Last season in two matchups, the teams combined to shoot 32.4% from the field on 73-of-225 shooting. A major key last season in their matchup was the free-throw line, where Baylor went 26-of-32 compared to Texas who was just 11-of-26.
  2. Was Jordan Bohannon’s mid-week performance a sign of more things to come? (Iowa State. @ Iowa, Friday, 9 PM EST, Big Ten Network) In Iowa’s win over North Carolina, Bohannon snapped out of the 3-of-14 three-point shooting stretch of the first three games of the season by draining 7-of-16 against the Tar Heels. For Iowa to reach its ultimate goal of playing into the Final Four both improvements on the defensive end and longterm consistency from Bohannon will be key.
  3. Will Florida and Florida State be able to turn one another over? (Florida @ Florida State, Saturday 11 AM EST, ESPNU) Defensively both Floria and Florida State each rank within the top 20 in turnover rate. Florida’s Tyree Appleby is a defensive pest who had four steals in just 20 minutes on Sunday against Stetson. The Gators will be challenged defensively to force turnovers at their usual high clip against a Florida State team that has been fantastic at limiting giveaways early in the season.
  4. After looking dominant at Duke, can Illinois avoid a letdown against an undefeated Missouri team? (Illinois @ Missouri, Saturday, 8 PM EST) Brad Underwood’s squad wasted no time turning things around after the loss against Baylor by walking into Cameron Indoor and showing what the Illii are capable of when firing on all cylinders. Illinois is a different team when they get minutes and production from Kofi Cockburn. He’ll be needed against a Missouri team that has averaged 39 points in the paint per game through its first four games.
  5. Can Marquette successfully attack the offensive glass against a good defensive rebounding Bruin team? (Marquette @ UCLA, Friday, 9:30 PM EST, Pac-12 Network) Marquette’s 34.3% offensive rebound rate sits in the top 50 nationally and it has also helped them post a free-throw rate of 50%, a top 20 rate in the nation. With a pair of players in Justin Lewis and Jamal Cain whom each individually post a top 100 offensive rebound rate, Marquette will challenge a UCLA team that has tremendous length and has done a good job of limiting both second-chance looks and free-throw attempts for its opponents.
  6. Will Stanford and USC come down to a pair of freshman or might a senior be the difference-maker? (Stanford @ USC, Sunday, 9:30 PM EST, Fox Sports 1) Stanford’s Ziaire Williams and USC’s Evan Mobley each came into the season as freshman who were among ESPN’s top 10 recruits. While Williams got off to a great start with 19 points in the opener against Alabama, he has since struggled both with his shot and staying out of foul trouble. For the Trojans, Evan Mobley’s 17.6 points, 9 rebounds, and 3 blocks per game has been a big reason USC has looked dominant at times. With the freshman stealing the spotlight, Stanford senior Oscar da Silva and his 17.3 points per game could fly under the radar and be the difference in this Pac-12 battle.
  7. Quite simply, will Kentucky show any signs of a pulse? (Notre Dame @ Kentucky, Saturday, Noon EST, CBS) A loss on Saturday would result in just the second four-game losing streak for Kentucky under John Calipari, the last coming in the 2017-18 season. While freshman Terrence Clarke and Isaiah Jackson showed glimmers of hope in the most recent loss, it’s been the play of fellow freshman Devin Askew as well as transfers Oliver Sarr and Davion Mintz which have left much to be desired. Any Kentucky turnaround begins with protecting the ball as the Wildcats are a -31 in turnover margin during the current three-game losing streak.
  8. Will Michigan’s size be too much for Penn State to handle? (Penn State @ Michigan, Sunday, 2 PM EST, Big Ten Network) Penn State has made ten or more three-pointers in three of its first four games of the season, including a 12-of-23 performance from deep against Virginia Tech in the Nittany Lions most recent game. With a lineup that primarily features four players at 6’6″ or under, Penn State will have to find ways to contain the Michigan trio of Isaiah Livers, Franz Wagner, and Hunter Dickinson who range from 6’7″ to 7’1″.
  9. Can Richmond’s Grant Golden stay out of foul trouble and contend with the Mountaineers dynamic duo? (Richmond @ West Virginia, Sunday, 1 PM EST, ESPN) Richmond’s Grant Golden is a skilled big who can score (14.7 PPG), rebound (5 RPG), and get others involved (3.7 APG) and can do all that while only playing 22 minutes per game. Golden will likely need to see more time on the floor against the duo of Derek Culver and Oscar Tshiebwe for Richmond to walk out of Morgantown with a victory. In just five games, the West Virginia tandem have already combined for 37 offensive rebounds.
  10. Will Dayton’s advantage at point guard be too much for Mississippi State to overcome? (Dayton vs. Mississippi State, Saturday, Noon EST, ESPN News) Jalen Crutcher is a senior guard who came into the season regarded as one the best lead guards in the nation. On Saturday, Mississippi State freshman Deivon Smith will be in charge of dealing with Crutcher, a player with a resume far greater than anyone Smith has faced thus far.
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Ten Questions to Consider: #1 vs. #2 Leads the Weekend Intrigue

Posted by Matthew Eisenberg on December 4th, 2020

Rarely do the Champions Classic and Maui Invitational take a backseat to a game later in the week, but with top-ranked Gonzaga taking on Baylor, that will be the case this weekend. In addition to that heavyweight matchup, I’m intrigued by teams leaving bubbles, teams off to shaky starts, and teams just getting going. Here are 10 questions I have for games taking place over the weekend:

  1. What will be the impact of the Jalen Suggs ankle injury as #1 Gonzaga takes on #2 Baylor? (Gonzaga vs. Baylor, Saturday, 1 PM EST, CBS) The ankle injury to Jalen Suggs in Wednesday night’s win over West Virginia had many college basketball fans around the country holding their breath. Suggs ultimately came back and played 16 minutes in the second half, but he did not score upon returning. However, Gonzaga had four other players score 10 or more points in its 53-point second-half to surge from behind for the win.
  2. After playing four games in Bubbleville, how will Villanova fare in hitting the road against the champs of Maui? (Villanova @ Texas, Sunday, 1 PM EST, ESPN) Villanova had its share of ups and downs while playing at Mohegan Sun Arena last week. All told, though, the Wildcats were a second-half collapse against Virginia Tech away from a 4-0 start to the season. After averaging just under 11 points per game a season ago, Jermaine Samuels has yet to hit double-figures yet. Villanova takes on a Texas team that has held opponents to a three-point percentage of just 20.3 percent through its opening four games.
  3. Will Marquette be able to slow the versatile Wisconsin offense? (Wisconsin @ Marquette, Friday, 7 PM EST, Fox Sports 1) In last season’s match-up between these teams, which the Badgers won 77-61, six different Wisconsin players scored 10 or more points. With four of those players back in action, a Marquette defense, which just saw four Oklahoma State players reach double-figures in the Golden Eagles loss, will be put to the test.
  4. Will this be the game that Kentucky finds any outside shooting? (Kentucky @ Georgia Tech, Sunday, 5 PM EST, ESPN) Kentucky is just 3-of-31 from beyond the three-point line over its last two games. The Wildcats last made three or fewer threes over a two-game span in the 2014-15 season (3-of-19 in wins against Providence and Texas). The Wildcats will be up against a Georgia Tech defense that has allowed its first two opponents to make 22-of-55 three-point attempts.
  5. Might Richmond be primed for a letdown following its win at Rupp Arena? (Furman @ Richmond, Saturday, 6 PM EST) The Spiders return home to face a KenPom top-100 Furman squad which returns five of its six leading scorers, including three players who averaged better than 10 points per game. Mike Bothwell of Furman has scored 17 or more points in each of his first three games and has made 21 of his 26 shots inside the three-point line. The disruptive Richmond defense will be tested by a Furman offense that has finished with a top-30 effective field-goal percentage in each of Bob Richey’s first three seasons as its head coach.
  6. Will it be Oregon or Seton Hall who leaves Omaha with an important win? (Oregon vs. Seton Hall, Friday, 9 PM EST, Fox Sports 1) The Ducks dropped their season opener on Wednesday night just hours after preseason all-conference first team guard Will Richardson had surgery on his thumb. For Seton Hall, the start of the season has included road losses to Louisville and Rhode Island — both teams are looking to find their stride after replacing all-everything players Payton Pritchard and Myles Powell.
  7. Will having played just one game impact Oklahoma as they hit the road for its Big 12 opener? (Oklahoma @ TCU, Sunday, 4 PM EST, ESPN 2) The Sooners take on a TCU team that will have played three more games than Oklahoma when the teams meet on Sunday. The Sooners are looking to replace last season’s leading scorer Kristian Doolittle with a group which includes North Texas transfer Umoja Gibson, who averaged 14.5 points per game with the Mean Green last year.
  8. Was Auburn’s loss on Monday against UCF a sign of things to come or more like a hangover from the Gonzaga loss? (South Alabama @ Auburn, Friday, 9 PM EST, SEC Network) Bruce Pearl’s squad sits at 1-2 with its lone win coming in overtime against Saint Joseph’s. In addition to tis on-court struggles, this is an Auburn team that has been without Sharife Cooper whose status remains up in the air. Without the McDonald’s All-American, Auburn has not yet found what it takes to replace the likes of Samir Doughty, Austin Wiley, J’Von McCormick, Daniel Purifoy and Isaac Okoro.
  9. Will home court advantage reign supreme again in the Battle of Cincinnati? (Xavier @ Cincinnati, Sunday, 3 PM EST) The home team has won each of the past five match-ups between Cincinnati and Xavier with the average margin of victory exceeding 10 points. While Travis Steele’s Musketeers’ squad will have played five games prior to Sunday, the Bearcats will be hitting the court for just the second time. It is a Cincinnati team that is replacing a pair in Jarron Cumberland and Tre Scott, each of whom averaged north of 10 points per game a season ago.
  10. Will Georgetown show fight against the tough Mountaineer team or is the beginning of the end of the Patrick Ewing era well underway? (West Virginia @ Georgetown, Sunday, 4:30 PM EST, Fox Sports 1) In the Hoyas’ loss to Navy on Tuesday, Georgetown surrendered 40 points in the paint, lost the turnover battle, was -1 in second-chance points, and only had one bench point. All that could go wrong seemingly did go wrong. Now in his fourth season at his alma mater, Patrick Ewing needs his team to show signs of life very quickly. Jahvon Blair is averaging 20 points per game so far and is showing production inside the arc where he is shooting 56 percent, but his lack of production from beyond the three-point line (4-of-19) has been troubling for the Hoyas’ offense.
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68 Preseason Questions Heading into the 2020-21 Season

Posted by Matthew Eisenberg on November 25th, 2020

We have come a long way since we last saw live college basketball action. It was an unforgettable March morning when the sports world came to a screeching halt. Now, seven long months later, COVID-19 remains a threat to the future of the sport, but it looks to charge on.

College Basketball Was Last Seen on Life Support in March (USA Today Images)

In a season full of uncertainty, there remains hope and optimism for fans, players, and coaches alike. In a year of the unpredictable, perhaps college basketball sees the unexpected as well. After all, Gonzaga has landed a top-five recruit and the preseason AP poll does not have either Duke or Kentucky in its top five for the first time since the 2008-09 season.

With the start of the season beginning in various locales around the country today, here are 68 questions I have for the season ahead.

QUESTIONS ON THE PRESEASON TOP 25

  1. With all that Gonzaga must replace, how ready will freshman Jalen Suggs be? Gone are four double-digit scorers from Gonzaga’s 31-2 team a season ago, including the team’s leading scorer and WCC Player of the Year Filip Petrušev. Enter Jalen Suggs, the highest-ranked freshman Mark Few has ever landed. Suggs will play a pivotal role in running an offense and distributing the ball to the likes of Corey Kispert, Joel Ayayi and Drew Timme.
  2. Returning most of its core, will a hot start catapult Baylor into a favorable position come March? After winning 26 games last season, Baylor returns each of its top three scorers, including the pair of Jared Butler and MaCio Teague. Both players averaged more than 13 points per game and made at least 60 three-pointers. Baylor has a chance to pad its resume early with as many as three games against top-10 teams all within the opening 10 days of the season.
  3. Will Villanova’s Jeremiah Robinson-Earl take a big step forward this season? Villanova returns much of its roster from last season, but does need to replace the production from departed leading scorer Saddiq Bey. As a freshman, Jeremiah Robinson-Earl averaged 10.5 points and 9.4 rebounds per game — he struggled in Villanova’s seven losses, however, scoring just 8.1 points per game and shooting just 28.3 percent from the field.
  4. How big of an impact will Sam Hauser make on the Virginia offense? After losing the core of its National Championship team, Virginia struggled offensively last season, finishing the year with an offensive efficiency ranking of 234th, a full 232 spots lower than the previous season. After sitting out last season, Marquette transfer Sam Hauser is eligible and will add a much needed shot-maker for Tony Bennett’s squad. Virginia must replace over 41 percent of the team’s points per game departed between leading scorer Mamadi Diakite and Braxton Key.
  5. While Luka Garza shines brightest, might the return of Jordan Bohannon be Iowa’s difference maker? With Big Ten Player of the Year Luka Garza returning and talented shooters Joe Wieskamp and Connor McCaffery back, the Hawkeyes are destined to again be an immensely talented team. Getting Jordan Bohannon back for a fifth year, though could be what the team needs to make a deep March run. Bohannon has made 40.6 percent of his 372 three-point attempts in Big Ten play and will get plenty of open looks with the talent that surrounds him.
  6. Bill Self is a magician, but how can even he replace the production of Devon Dotson and Udoka Azubuike? In Devon Dotson and Udoka Azubuike, Kansas losses a pair of consensus All-Americans, the NABC Defensive Player of the Year, and 31.8 points, 14.6 rebounds, and 4.9 assists per game. Ochai Agbaji and Marcus Garrett each showed promise at times, but neither was consistent throughout the entire season.
  7. Will the returning experience of Wisconsin give the Badgers an advantage in the Big Ten? If experience wins games, Wisconsin will be a very strong team in 2020-21. The Badgers return five of their top six scorers from last year’s team, all of whom are seniors. Greg Gard’s squad finished last season playing as well as anyone in the conference, having rattled off eight consecutive wins to end the season.
  8. Will Illinois find a way to be more consistent on the road? The Fighting Illini head into the season led by the talented duo of Kofi Cockburn and Ayo Dosunmu, both of whom have been selected to the preseason All-Big Ten team. Their 13 conference wins a season ago were the most by an Illinois team since it went 15-1 in 2004-05. Last year could have been even better had Illinois found a way to not implode in the second half in games away from the State Farm Center.
  9. The likes of Bagley, Barrett, Zion, Vernon Carey and Cassius Stanley all shined bright in their first year at Duke; will Duke have the trend of freshman stardom carry the team again? Matthew Hurt and Wendell Moore were the perfect complementary pieces to Vernon Carey, Tre Jones and Cassius Stanley a season ago. Now, though, they serve as the leading returning scorers for the Blue Devils. Coach K will again need a freshman trio to take control of the team. Duke brings in another set of five-star recruits in Jalen Johnson, Jeremy Roach and D.J. Steward.
  10. Will it be the freshman or the incoming transfers that make a bigger impact for Coach Cal’s Kentucky team? To the surprise of no one, Kentucky brings in a loaded recruiting class led by a trio of five-star recruits. In typical Kentucky fashion, Brandon (BJ) Boston and Terrence Clarke are capable of carrying the Cats for long stretches. They’ll get plenty of help, though, from eligible transfers Davion Mintz (via Creighton) and Olivier Sarr (via Wake Forest).
  11. Can Creighton duplicate its Big East success from a season ago? Greg McDermott’s Creighton team returns five of the team’s top six scorers from a group that owned an adjusted offensive efficiency ranking of third in the nation. Creighton’s biggest struggles last season came in games in which Marcus Zegarowski was inefficient from the field, so keep an eye on his shot selection.
  12. What will sophomore Santiago Vescovi’s impact be for Tennessee this year? After arriving on campus after the season started, Santiago Vescovi had moments where he shined for the Volunteers and at other times looked like a freshman. Vescovi shot 36 percent on 100 three-point attempts and possessed a quality assist rate. He must cut back on turnovers, though, having turned the ball over three and a half times per game.
  13. Quite simply, how does Michigan State replace all that Cassius Winston brought to the floor? The floor general, the heart and soul, the former conference player of the year, and an all-league performer from a season ago is gone. Rocket Watts showed flashes at the end of last season, averaging 17.8 points per game over his final four games, but he needs to improve upon a 28 percent three-point shooting mark. Joey Hauser’s presence will provide an additional scorer for a Michigan State team that also loses Xavier Tillman.
  14. Can a trio of transfers offset what Texas Tech lost between Moretti and Ramsey? Last season Chris Beard used transfers TJ Holyfield and Chris Clarke as key pieces alongside Davide Moretti and Jahmi’us Ramsey. This season, Beard is hoping Mac McClung (Georgetown), Jamarius Burton (Wichita State), and Marcus Santos-Silva (VCU) can provide a similar spark via the transfer market. Each player heads to Lubbock coming off of a season averaging at least 10 points per game for their former team.
  15. Will West Virginia’s defense remain elite and carry the Mountaineers to a successful season? In the 2018-19 season, West Virginia had an adjusted defensive efficiency ranking of 135th. Last season, Bob Huggins’ team held opponents to 15 fewer points per 100 possessions en route to posting an adjusted defensive efficiency ranking of third in the nation. The defense carried a team which still turned the ball over at an alarming rate and missed far too many shots. With Derek Culver and Oscar Tshiebwe back again, however, it’s a Mountaineers team that has the potential to be the best defensive squad in the country.
  16. Will the growth Garrison Brooks showed last season carry over to this season for North Carolina? While many teams had their season cut short by COVID-19 last March, North Carolina’s had already come to an end after an ACC Tournament loss to Syracuse finished off a disappointing 14-19 season. Through the team’s first 13 games, Garrison Brooks averaged 12.3 points per games, but over his final 19 games, he logged 19.9 points per game. With Armando Bacot returning beside him, the duo can form a tough frontcourt for opposing teams to deal with.
  17. What will the addition of Cameron Tyson to the Houston rotation mean to the Cougars offense? In the 2018-19 season at Idaho, freshman Cameron Tyson broke both the school’s and Big Sky’s freshman three-point record with 106 makes. The Cougars return their top two scorers from last season, along with three players who made at least 40 from behind the arc. After sitting out last season, Tyson will provide another bucket-getter for a talented Houston squad.
  18. Can Arizona State’s deep and talented backcourt carry a team lacking size up front? What Arizona State lacks down low, the Sun Devils more than make up with firepower from the guard and wing positions. Joining the returning fiery duo of Remy Martin and Alonzo Verge on the preseason all-conference team is five-star recruit Josh Christopher. In addition, Bobby Hurley’s team adds the nearly 18 points per game Holland Woods scored for Portland State a season ago. That quartet is as talented as any, but all stand under just 6’5″. With Romello White transferring out, the Sun Devils do not return a single player who averaged more than 3.5 rebounds per game.
  19. What is the key to Shaka Smart making it through another season at Texas? Last season’s nine Big 12 conference wins was the second most in Shaka Smart’s five seasons at Texas. The Longhorns, however, turned the ball over at a rate higher than any of Smart’s previous years in Austin. It was a contributing factor to having Texas rank as the least efficient offense in conference play. With the team’s top five scorers returning, perhaps continuity will lead to more offensive success and keep Smart in Texas beyond this season.
  20. Oregon is full of talent, but is that enough to replace Payton Pritchard? Payton Pritchard was one of three players in the country to average at least 20 points, five assists and four rebounds per game a year ago. Like Texas Tech, the Ducks bring in three transfers who have each previously averaged scoring at least 10 points per game in Amauri Hardy, LJ Figueroa and Eugene Omoruyi.
  21. How much pressure will be on freshman Scottie Barnes to carry Florida State this season? Scottie Barnes, a consensus top-10 recruit, decided to stay in-state when he picked Florida State. Having lost three of the team’s top four scorers, two of whom were drafted among the top 11 of this year’s NBA Draft, Barnes has an opportunity and Florida State has a need for the freshman to meet the high-expectations he brings to Tallahassee.
  22. Will the growth UCLA showed under Mick Cronin to end last season be there at the start of this season? Home losses to Hofstra and Cal State Fullerton had Bruins fans up in arms early in the Mick Cronin era. But after a 1-3 Pac-12 start, things suddenly clicked. The Bruins then went 11-3 down the stretch and were squarely on the bubble heading into the final weekend of the season. It’s a team that returns all of its core, including Chris Smith, while also adding Kentucky transfer Johnny Juzang.
  23. Will Ohio State have another season where they adhere to the saying, “live by the three, die by the three?” When it came to last season, 35 percent was a key indicator for the Buckeyes. When the team made more than that percentage of its three-point attempts, they went 17-1; whereas, when they hit fewer than that clip of their three-point attempts, the Buckeyes were just 4-9. The same was true defensively where Ohio State finished 16-3 when they held opponents to under 35 percent shooting from deep and just 5-7 when teams eclipsed that mark.
  24. Will returning most of last season’s roster help Rutgers see the offensive improvements the team needs? The Scarlet Knights return six of the seven players who averaged at least 6.7 points per game from a season ago. Rutgers has increased its Big Ten win total from three to five to 11 over the past three seasons. Steve Pikiell’s team has played consistently good defense over these years, but has seen dramatic rises in offensive efficiency over this time frame. With all that returns, Rutgers has a chance to take another step forward in the Big Ten and nationally.
  25. Will Michigan’s Franz Wagner show similar year-to-year growth as his brother and former Wolverine Mo Wagner? After averaging 7.4 points per game through his first 10 games, Franz Wagner finished the year averaging 13.2 points per game in mostly Big Ten play. His older brother, Mo, showed steady improvements each year at Michigan, if Franz follows in his footsteps, he and the senior trio of Eli Brooks, Chaundee Brown and Isaiah Livers can lead Michigan to another strong season.

POWER CONFERENCE TEAMS WITH INTRIGUE AND QUESTION MARKS

  1. NCAA investigations aside, just how warm is Sean Miller’s seat at Arizona? Five Level I NCAA violations, including lack of institutional and head coach control is enough to put a coach on a hot seat, but when combined with a team that underperformed last year, has a mere .500 record in the Pac-12 over the past two seasons, pressure on Sean Miller appears to be at an all-time high. After relying on freshman last year, Miller is hoping a pair of transfers can lead the way with the arrival of James Akinjo (Georgetown) and Terrell Brown (Seattle).
  2. After a disappointing season a year ago, how will the Florida Gators look this season? Mike White’s team was a consensus preseason top-10 team last season, but the team had trouble coming together and never met those expectations. Gone are Kerry Blackshear and Andrew Nembhard, but talent does return in the pair of Keyontae Johnson and Noah Locke. Last year was the first time a White-coached Florida team finished outside of the top 25 in adjusted defensive efficiency rankings, finishing the year at a disappointing 61st.
  3. Can Indiana win enough in conference play to have a successful season? Over the last two seasons, Indiana has a 19-3 record in the non-conference season, while finishing just 17-23 in Big Ten play. Conference play road tests have been especially harsh on Indiana as the Hoosiers are just 5-15 over the past two seasons.
  4. How big of a jump will the move from Radford to Louisville be for Carlik Jones? Last season, Carlik Jones was the only player in the nation to average at least 20 points, five rebounds and five assists per outing. The Big South Player of the Year has previously played against a couple of ACC opponents in the past, including games against Clemson and Maryland his sophomore year in which he showed an ability to play well against stiffer competition.
  5. Can freshman Cameron Thomas fill the void behind the arc at LSU left behind by the departure of Skylar Mays? While LSU returns three double-figure scorers from a season ago, they did lose Skylar Mays’ team leading 16.7 points per game, as well as the 13.3 PPG of Emmitt Williams. Top 25 recruit Cam Thomas, described by many as a “smooth scorer” should be an important piece for Will Wade’s team right from the start.
  6. Can Notre Dame turn things back into the right direction? Last season, with seniors TJ Gibbs, John Mooney, and Rex Pflueger combining to make 94 starts, a 20-12 record felt like a major disappointment as the Irish finished last year with zero wins against the KenPom top 50. A program that last reached the NCAA Tournament in 2017, Mike Brey is throwing his team straight into the fire with a non-conference schedule that includes Michigan State, Ohio State, Kentucky and Purdue.
  7. Will the Syracuse zone and defensive efficiency have a resurgence this season? Syracuse finished last season with a defensive efficiency ranking of 116th, a far cry from the standard set by most Jim Boeheim coached teams. While Elijah Hughes has left, the Orange return four other players who have combined to make 126 starts. With a slight improvement on the defensive end, Syracuse is a team that should see itself back in NCAA Tournament contention.
  8. Can Eric Musselman continue to work magic as a coach for Arkansas team that has a lot to replace?: Eric Musselman’s first year in Fayetteville saw the Razorbacks return to winning 20 games. They are a team looking to replace the team’s three-leading scorers, each of whom averaged at least 14 points per game. The “Muss Buss” will be aided by a bevy of transfers including Justin Smith (Indiana), Vance Jackson (New Mexico), and last season’s Horizon League Defensive Player of the Year Jalen Tate (Northern Kentucky).
  9. Can Oklahoma sneak up and challenge for a top-four spot in the Big 12? Picked sixth in the preseason conference coaches poll, Oklahoma returns four of its top five scorers including the pair of Austin Reaves and Brady Manek, each of whom averaged more than 14 points per game. Lon Kruger also adds Umoja Gibson to the mix, who averaged 14.5 points per game and made 86 three-pointers a season ago at North Texas.
  10. Is NC State flying too far under the radar in the ACC? Yes, NC State did lose its two leading scorers, but it’s a team that brings back a pair of seniors who averaged more than 10 points per game last year, as well as the never shy Braxton Beverly. Consistency will be the key for a team that beat Duke, Virginia and Wisconsin a season ago, but also went 0-4 against the trio of Boston College, North Carolina and Virginia Tech, three teams that were a collective 20-40 in ACC play.
  11. Can St. John’s find a way to succeed offensively in Big East play? The Red Storm entered Big East play 11-2 last season before ultimately finishing the year 17-15. It was a St. John’s team which finished with the 323rd-best team effective field-goal percentage in college basketball. As poor and inefficient of an offense as they were a season ago, they must improve this year with the likes of their top two scorers from a season ago no longer on the team.
  12. Can Georgetown take a step forward or is the Patrick Ewing era in danger of coming to an end soon? From injuries to players leaving the program to seven straight defeats to end the season, last year was a disaster for the Hoyas. Patrick Ewing has now finished at 5-13 in league play twice and above .500 overall just once. Georgetown has finished league play with a bottom two defensive efficiency in each season in DC, and with Mac McClung and Omer Yurtseven gone, Ewing faces quite the challenge of righting the ship in the nation’s capital.
  13. Can DePaul do the unthinkable and end its streak of 16 consecutive missed NCAA Tournaments? Before last season’s DePaul team finished Big East play 3-15, they finished the non-conference part of the season 12-1 with wins over Iowa, Minnesota and Texas Tech. Leading scorer Charlie Moore returns and is joined by transfer Ray Salnave who averaged 14.5 points per game at Monmouth last season. Salnave should help a team that in conference play ranked last in effective field-goal percentage, turnover rate and three-point percentage.

QUESTIONS ON SOME OF THE NATION’S IMPACT FRESHMAN

  1. With a postseason ban in place on Oklahoma State, what will top recruit Cade Cunningham’s season look like? The past five top recruits in the country have had mixed success, with R.J. Barrett and Josh Jackson having strong campaigns, whereas the likes of James Wiseman, Michael Porter, and Skal Labissiere all falling short for varying reasons. This year, Cade Cunningham, the #1 recruit in the country, stuck with his commitment to Oklahoma State even after his team was given a postseason ban. The regular season will be Cunningham’s time to shine.
  2. A year after freshman Onyeka Okongwu shined bright, what will Evan Mobley’s impact be on the Trojans? Onyeka Okongwu was a force on both ends of the court for USC a season ago, leading the team in points, rebounds and blocked shots per game. This year, Andy Enfield adds top-10 recruit Evan Mobley to his roster. The seven-footer is described by many as a plus-athlete whose presence will especially be felt on the defensive side of the court.
  3. Is Ziaire Williams the missing piece Stanford needs to return to the NCAA Tournament? After winning 20 games for the first time under Jerod Haase, the Cardinal bring back much of last year’s team while also adding the highly-regarded Ziaire Williams. As a senior at Sierra Canyon, playing alongside the likes of B.J. Boston and Bronny James, Williams averaged 15 points and eight rebounds per game while taking home the Los Angeles Times Player of the Year award.
  4. After only getting three games out of James Wiseman last year, what can Memphis expect from the highly touted Moussa Cisse this seaosn? Moussa Cisse decided to stay local and commit to the Memphis program. After getting just three games out of James Wiseman last year, Penny Hardaway is hoping Cisse can bring the goods for an entire season. The freshman is an elite rim-protector and someone who should be a force on the frontcourt for the Tigers.
  5. What will Makur Maker’s freshman look like after deciding to go to Howard over the likes of Kentucky and UCLA? Maker shocked many recruiting pundits when he picked the path of attending Howard over the blue-blood programs that had pursued him. “I just dare to be different,” said Maker about his decision. An NBA talent in the MEAC, Maker is forging a new path, a path that will have eyes glued to him each night he hits the floor.
  6. What should college basketball expect moving forward with the competition from the G-League for recruits? The creation of the NBA G-League developmental team has led to some of the top recruits in the nation deciding against playing college basketball. The likes of Jalen Green, Jonathan Kuminga and Daishen Nix deciding to go that route cost some coaches time and agony with losing recruits, but questions remain about the impact it will have on the game as a whole. Will more recruits bail on college as time moves forward, or will this just allow for different players to emerge as college stars?

THE BIGGEST QUESTION MARK OF THE SEASON: COVID-19

  1. The elephant in the room that needs to be asked, will there be a full 2020-2021 season or will COVID-19 break basketball hearts again? The morning of March 12, 2020, feels like an eternity ago — it was the day when the college basketball season completely shut down. From playing conference tournament games to facing the end of the season in the blink of an eye. While this season is set to begin, getting though March and the 2021 NCAA Tournament is far from a guarantee.
  2. With the recent news of the NCAA’s plans to play the entire NCAA Tournament in or around Indianapolis, do certain teams pick up a new advantage? Without COVID-19, the 2021 NCAA Tournament would have had teams playing through Regional sites such as Brooklyn, Memphis, Denver and Minneapolis. That said, the NCAA recently announced plans to hold the entire tournament within the confines of Indianapolis and the surrounding areas. With teams not gaining geographical advantages and potentially playing without fan support, could Midwest teams gain an advantage?
  3. With the NCAA already relocating the NCAA Tournament, what will conference tournaments look like come early March? Beyond the NCAA Tournament being played in a centralized location, perhaps individual conferences will follow suit. The possibility of moving conference tournaments from a neutral site to on the campus of a school could play a major impact on which teams end up with automatic bids.
  4. Cancelled games are inevitably going to happen, what impact will they have on resumes and teams? The comparing of resumes in March will be interesting when taking note of all the cancelled games, many of which will not be rescheduled. It will be interesting to see how the committee handles similar teams that potentially could have quite a difference in number of games played.
  5. While players fall into a category of lower health threats to the disease, what effects might COVID-19 have on the veteran coaches across the country? Mid-November brought the news that Jim Boeheim tested positive for COVID-19. Boeheim, 76 years of age, is one of those premier coaches whose age puts them at a greater risk than the players. While a player might be able to recover quickly, there remains great uncertainty of what a positive test to those coaches, espeically those north of 70 (Leonard Hamilton, Mike Krzyzewski, Roy Williams) could mean.
  6. Players and teams will inevitably face COVID-19 challenges, but for those that must rest players while still playing games, will deeper, more experienced teams gain an edge ? Players missing time and being forced to isolate from a team will present unique obstacles for many teams. Perhaps it benefits teams with deep, experienced benches in the short term, but perhaps young, inexperienced teams could use these challenges to increase playing time for young players while also increasing the depth of the squad.

QUESTIONS FOR THOSE COACHING IN A NEW PLACE

  1. After five consecutive 24-win seasons, how will East Tennessee State fare with a new roster and new coach? In Steve Forbes’ five years at ETSU, the Buccaneers won at least 24 games in each season. Former assistant Jason Shay takes over a team that went 30-4 last year, but with a roster that does not return any of its top eight scorers from that squad.
  2. Grand Canyon University disappointed in Dan Majerle’s final season, but can they have a resurgence in Bryce Drew’s first year? After four consecutive 20-win seasons, Grand Canyon went just 13-17 in Dan Majerle’s final season leading the way. After disappointing at Vanderbilt, Bryce Drew returns to the mid-major level where he had previously excelled. The Antelopes bring back the WAC Freshman of the Year, Jovan Blacksher, who averaged 10.7 points, 5.5 rebounds and 3.6 assists per game in his first year.
  3. After being away from college basketball for several years, what will Rick Pitino’s return look like at Iona? Rick Pitino was last on the sideline of a college basketball game in 2017. His return to the game finds himself with a pair of MAAC Preseason Second Team selections in Isaiah Ross and Asante Gist. Pitino has won at least 20 games in each of his past 15 seasons as a college coach.
  4. The sudden firing of Pat Chambers leaves Penn State with a new coach; can Jim Ferry keep the Nittany Lions trending in the right direction? For the first time in over 20 years, Penn State basketball has won 20 or more games in two of its past three seasons. Off the court issues required the school to go in a new direction and bringing in Jim Ferry after Pat Chambers was fired. Ferry last coached at Duquesne in the 2016-17 season, and, in his five years with the Dukes, Ferry’s teams finished with more than 13 wins just once.
  5. Can Steve Forbes find success at Wake Forest after winning year in and year out at ETSU? The Danny Manning era at Wake Forest came to an end last season with little success to show for it, and Steve Forbes looks to replicate the success he had at ETSU in the ACC. With ETSU, the Buccaneers were a top-100 defense in three of his five seasons, a side of the ball that Manning’s Wake teams often struggled with. Forbes brings guard Daivien Williamson with him to his new team.
  6. With limited time between the firing of Gregg Marshall and the start of the season, how will Wichita State perform under the new leadership of coach Isaac Brown? After a run of eight NCAA Tournaments in a nine-year stretch, Gregg Marshall’s tenure at the helm came to a crashing end after considerable off-court troubles were discovered. Former assistant Isaac Brown takes over on short notice with a team that does not bring back its top three scorers.

QUESTIONS ON THE NEW TEAMS ON THE BLOCK

  1. Can Bellarmine take a successful D-II program and have immediate success in the Atlantic Sun? Bellarmine was one of the premier programs in the Great Lakes Valley Conference over the past 10 years. They enter D-I basketball coming off of a 20-win season, their 12th in a row. On offense, Bellarmine shot over 40 percent from beyond the arc and were disruptive on the defensive end with over seven steals per game.
  2. Can the duo of Hunter Schofield and Frank Staine help Dixie State announce its presence at the D-I level this season? Schofield and Staine join Dason Youngblood as three returning players who started at least 28 games on last season’s 23-7 team. Schofield was the only player in the Rocky Mountain Athletic Conference to finish the season ranked in the top 10 in scoring, rebounding and field-goal percentage. This is a Dixie State squad that could find itself in the top half of the WAC in its first season.
  3. Wait a second, who is the coach at Tarleton State? With Tarleton State’s debut at the D-I level comes the return of former Kentucky coach Billy Gillispie. Gillispie last coached at this level in the 2011-12 season at Texas Tech before being let go for allegations of player mistreatment. Trouble has always followed Gillispie, but he does bring experience and a knack for program-building. He’ll need that experience to guide a team that won 18 games a season ago and does not return its top three scorers.
  4. After a 30-1 season last year, can UC San Diego have Merrimack-type success in year one at the D-I level? The Tritons of UC San Diego become the eighth University of California school to join the D-I level. UCSD is coming off of a 30-1 season in which it finished the year ranked third in the final D2SIDA rankings. They averaged 12.6 made three-pointers per game, while shooting better than 40 percent from deep. Returning to the team is 5’11” All-American guard Tyrell Roberts who averaged over 19 points per game and made 111-of-240 three-point attempts.
  5. If college basketball is all about the student-athletes, why does the NCAA continue to impose the postseason ban on teams that transition to D-I? When Merrimack beat Central Connecticut on February 27, it clinched sole possession of the NEC regular season title. With that, their season came to an end due to the NCAA’s postseason ban on team’s transitioning to the Division I level. Among the countless puzzling rules the NCAA has, this is near the top of the list that needs to change. If any of the four teams making the move to this level earn what should be a postseason berth, they unequivocally should be allowed to play.

QUESTIONS ON GROWING TRENDS IN COLLEGE BASKETBALL

  1. Will the trend of decreased offensive efficiency continue this season? According to KenPom data, the national average efficiency total was at its lowest in a stretch of the past seven seasons. With limited off-seasons, questions about COVID-19 breaking up the rhythm of the season, the upcoming season could see the ongoing decline of offensive efficiceny continue.
  2. Will college basketball continue to see a decline of free throws being attempted? The Division I free-throw rate last year fell to 32.6 percent, the lowest it has been in over 30 years. The game has invariably changed and the reliance on shooting from deep has correspondingly led to a decline in getting to the line. Another consequence of COVID-19 could be the return of trips to the foul line. With fewer summer practices working on defense and perhaps worse conditioning, perhaps college basketball sees more fouls called.
  3. Will we see three-point percentages get worse again this season? Last season’s average NCAA three-point field-goal percentage was 33.3 percent, the lowest of any season recorded by KenPom data going back to the 1986-87 season. The average sat at 35 percent two and three years ago, respectively. Whereas ten teams made at least 40 percent of their three-point attempts five seasons ago, only BYU did last season.
  4. Will offense return to the Big 12? Four of the top-10 defensive efficiency teams came from the Big 12 last season. With terrific defense came subpar offense. In league play, the Big 12 became the first power conference to post a conference-wide offensive efficiency of under 1.0 point per possession since the Big 12 did it in the 2002-03 season.
  5. Will Pac-12 teams find a way to win on the road in conference play? In conference play, Pac-12 home teams won 70.4 percent of their games, the second-best mark of any conference a season ago. Of the 32 home losses, 13 came via the bottom three teams in the league. Put simply, Pac-12 teams really struggled to get wins on the road. With the race for a league-title appearing to include a handful of teams, winning on the road could be what separates the teams at the top.
  6. Will replay continue to ruin far too many end of games? The balance between getting the call right and repeatedly going to the monitor for far too long continues to be a problem for college basketball referees. These stoppages kill any flow late in games and far too often leave calls still being questioned. After hearing complaints from seemingly everywhere last season, here is hoping the NCAA has spent the off-season finding some way to fix this issue.

67 DOWN, 1 TO GO…

  1. With all that being said, what should you expect this coming season? It’s college basketball, the unexpected should be the expected. I will leave you with the following bold predictions. Duke will not make it past the Round of 32; one of Houston or Oklahoma makes a run to the Sweet 16; one of Arizona State or UCLA makes a trip the Elite Eight, Iowa makes the title game, but it’s Gonzaga who cuts down the nets.
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